England-What Comes to Mind

When you think of England, what is the first thing you think of. For a lot of people, they would be thinking about London. London was the first place I knew that existed in England. When I was younger- I think back in elementary school, I wanted to go to London just to see a guard. That sounds odd, but I was only young after all. When I think of London, a LOT comes to mind. July 31st-August 10th were meaningful: those were the dates that created the Bristol Pilgrimage.

Five years ago on the 28th, my family left for London. We went from Charlotte to Atlanta to London. My family took my sister and I early to get used to the time change and to get more out of London. We arrived the 29th at Heathrow Airport, but I did not even believe we were in London. I had to see West End filers to know that we were actually in London. Before leaving the airport, my family walked to Costa Coffee- we did that to make sure we met the other pilgrims at the right place. We ended up having coffee and food at Costa. We would have arrived what felt like the middle of the night.

The 29th and 30th felt we were just tourists. All we did on the 29th was walk around the Westminster Area- I did get to see a guard. It was actually the 30th where it felt like we were doing something. Our first stop was Platform 9 and 3/4 at King’s Cross Station. My sister and I were raised on Harry Potter- we both love the series. After that, there wasn’t much time to do much more- lunch, and then time to go back to the hotel, but first a stop at Paddington Station. After arriving back at the hotel, my mom and I had to get ready for Les Mis- not only did we have to get dressed, but also had to figure out how to get to the West End.

“I Dreamed a Dream”

Seeing the Queen’s Theater was surreal. I thought I was imaging. While getting a quick bite to eat for dinner, I kept on looking at the Queen’s Theater. I did have culture shock in the West End- we were buying souvenirs and was surprised that the playbill had to be purchased. I also ended up with a poster and t-shirt. My mom and I also got a souvenir for a church friend, whose favorite musical is Les Mis. From seeing the theater to buying souvenirs to realizing I had an understudy for Valjean to seeing the set to seeing how close we were- all felt not real. But then, I heard them- the first notes of the orchestra. I do see the orchestra as a character- the orchestra did tell me something- that it would be more than expected. Those notes were not wrong: it was more than expected- not just by cast, but by the ensemble and staging. I literally stood up right away during the curtain call. The revolve was one of the best parts, and the same with the barricade- in terms of staging. That cast- I never once detected I had an understudy, and they were brilliant.

I actually had my first stage door experience. Originally I did not want to, but my mom convinced me to. I actually met Adam Bayjou, who was Jean Valjean. He signed my playbill and got a picture of him. To get a picture with the actor who was the main character was exciting. It was my dream to see Les Mis in London. There was one more thing I loved about that evening: I loved that my dad and sister got their own date with my mom and I were watching Les Mis. I was an emotional wreck- and did find new emotions in characters. I was also was laughing every once in a while.

The 31st- my family had to go back to the airport to meet the rest of the 72 pilgrims at Costa Coffee. Most of them left the same day I saw Les Mis. To from Valjean’s spiritual journey to my own- that actually made the musical more meaningful. We started at Windsor Castle. August 1st and 2nd consisted of a walking tour of London, Evensong at Westminster, Eucharist at St. Paul’s, and Tower of London (we didn’t have time to go in, but had time to walk around. I was nervous living London- I did not know anything about Bristol. It was chaotic living London.

Do you what London reminds me of? It reminds me of NYC, but a spread out version of NYC. One of the things I loved about being at Bristol was looking for Shaun the Sheep. I never once thought I would go to all the church services, but I did. From Bath to Berkeley Castle to Stonehenge to Old Sarum to Salisbury Cathedral to Tintern Abbey to Chepstow Castle- we went to places in and around Bristol. The Stonehenge day was when the church choir was off- so we were able to do more that day. Stonehenge was my mountain-top moment. That day actually seemed like it was going to rain, but the clouds gave Stonehenge an incredible atmosphere. I do not think that the things we did were the best part of the pilgrimage. In my opinion, the fellowship that was created was the best part. Our church has a stronger fellowship all because of the Bristol Pilgrimage. Some of the things we did had a stronger impact than others, but everything added up to the meaning behind the pilgrimage.

The last two days were spent in Bristol. So the pilgrims had free time until the church services. My family visited St. Mary Redcliffe, and by being there, I thought of the perfect motto for the Bristol Pilgrimage.

Those lyrics from the Servant Song are perfect- the song now has double meaning (Kanuga and the Bristol Pilgrimage). We really were travelers. We were pilgrims. We did help each other. We were at a number of places. There was only one time we weren’t in England- we were in Wales for Tintern and Chepstow. A lot of them were places I wasn’t familiar with. I actually was in tears twice in England. The first was at Les Mis and the other time was the final Evensong. When the final anthem was sung, I was in tears, and through that reaction, I knew just how transforming the pilgrimage was. The Bristol Pilgrimage was an important part of my spiritual journey. My family mainly wanted to go up early because of Les Mis- what was crazy about the stage show was that I did see it every other years. 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019 were the years I saw the stage show: four theaters and three ways (community college, West End, and US Tour).

Do you know what the difference is between a tourist and pilgrim. A tourist actually just looks while a pilgrim looks much deeper for the spirituality and sacredness of a place and look deeper in themselves. I think the reason why I was able to find the spirituality in Les Mis is due to having a strong spirit. I accidentally mistook is for being too depressing when I first saw the movie, but for whatever reason gave it a 2nd chance.

The Importance of This Date

Today is July 28th. You might be wondering what is so special about a particular month and day. Well five years ago to this day, my family left Charlotte to go to London. We went from Charlotte to Atlanta to London landing in London on July 29th. When we arrived in London, I did not believe we were there. Eventually, I found the West End filers, and from those alone I really knew for a fact that we were in London. I ended up choosing the Les Mis filer because I would be seeing Les Mis on the 30th.

What are the things my family did in London?

Platform 9 and 3/4- my sister and I have seen Harry Potter growing up.

Les Mis- there are multiple things I loved about this night. Now only was my mom and I watching Les Mis, but my dad and sister got to do their own thing. Seeing Les Mis in the West End was my dream, which fit perfectly into what I was doing in England. From Valjean’s spiritual journey to my own.

Below are two pictures from London.

Windsor Castle- this is the first thing my family did will all the pilgrims. In total, there were 72 pilgrims. It started with changing of the guards before entering.

Walking Tour of London- while on the 29th, my family did walk around the Westminster Area, this time felt different. But this tour made me see things that were not seen and others closer. This is how I was able to see Buckingham Palace, and closer to the London Eye. We saw same of the same areas from before, but a closer view

Evensong at Westminster- all the pilgrims sat in the quire at Westminster. We went to Evensong to help prepare us for what to expect in Bristol.

Eucharist at St. Paul’s- we actually got to sit under the beautiful dome. After, there was some free time. My family walked to the Millennium Bridge for more Harry Potter fun- that was the bridge the death eaters destroyed in Half Blood Prince.

Tower of London- while there wasn’t time to go inside, there was still time to walk around. My family first walked on the Tower Bridge. While walking around Tower of London, I was able to see some jousting. .

Leaving London- I actually was kinda of nervous leaving London: the two buses met everyone at the Tower of London. One bus was used for choir members and the other family, parishioners, and friends. Everyone arrived to Bristol late all because it was chaotic leaving London. Here is what I do know: if I ever go back to England, I want to stay in London the entire time.

Connection Between Les Mis and Stonehenge

I find an connection to Les Mis and Stonehenge in such a special way. But why do they feel connected?

As some may know, I went on a trip to England in 2015. The choir at my church was in residence at Bristol Cathedral, which meant that they were going to be singing there. So, the church took the choir and other members on a pilgrimage to places such as Old Sarum, Chepstow Castle, Bath, Stonehenge, Berkeley Castle, and more. The year was 2015 and the pilgrimage began on July 31st. A pilgrimage is very different than a vacation. To me, a pilgrim goes to scared and spiritual places to create a deeper relationship with God and to find more meaning. A tourist on the other hand would just go to a place to explore and not so much to look for the sacredness and spirituality of a specific place.

The paintings below are pictures of Stonehenge and the Finale of Les Mis. They each played a part in that England trip and helped make that trip quite special.

But what does all of this have to do with Les Mis? Les Mis was not part of the pilgrimage, but was part of my trip to England. My parents took my sister and I to England two days early. So in those days, on July 30th, my mom took me to the Queens Theatre to see Les Misérables, a musical I dreamed of seeing in the West End. This was my first time seeing the musical professionally. Les Mis is such a special musical and it directly in a way was a great musical to see the day before a pilgrimage.

The picture below is a picture of me at the stage door with Adam Bayjou, who was my Valjean for the night and he was an understudy and was the best Jean Valjean I ever saw.  I always get nervous when I hear I have an understudy, but this Valjean was honestly so good. As a matter of fact, the entire cast was brilliant and due to finally seeing Les Mis in London, I found a bigger appreciation of a musical that changed the way I view musicals.

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Why would Les Mis be a wonderful musical to see before a pilgrimage? To start things off, Les Mis deals with spiritual themes and is a spiritual journey. Les Mis is a tale of love, hope, sacrifice, forgiveness, compassion, humanity and redemption. The protagonist, Jean Valjean, goes on a spiritual journey when given a second chance at life. Seeing Les Mis in London was the best part of my trip to England.

Due to a pilgrimage being a spiritual journey, Les Mis fits perfectly. So the day after I went on Jean Valjean’s spiritual journey, I went on my own spiritual journey. Stonehenge was a “mountain top moment”. I really felt God’s Holy Spirit at Stonehenge. There was just something about the atmosphere that made Stonehenge so special. The strong wind felt like energy was going through you and felt like it was pulling you into Stonehenge. Stonehenge happened one week after I saw Les Mis in London.

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This is a picture from Windsor Castle. Visiting Windsor Castle was the first part of the pilgrimage. I got to see the changing of the guards. The first time I saw a guard in England was the day we arrived. My original reason for wanting to go to London was just to see a guard and that idea came from a child.

The pictures below are Tintern Abbey (Pictures on the right) and Chepstow Castle (Picture on the left).  At first, I thought Tintern Abbey would be kind of boring in a way. At first, I did not see the sacredness of it, but eventually did. I noticed a white dove nestled in the corner and a dove is symbol of spirituality so I got something out of Tintern Abbey. Tintern Abbey was in Wales.

In total, this pilgrimage consisted of ten church services. We saw Evensong at Westminster, Eucharist at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Evensong at Salisbury Cathedral, and the other services, which consisted of one Eucharist and six Evensongs. Everything combined on this trip including the two extra days all provided something wonderful to this trip. There were the big memories such as Stonehenge and Les Mis and there were other memories, but those two things I did were quite special. As for the church services, my favorite ones were the ones sung by our Church Choir. As each service continued, the choir just got better and better. I actually cried twice during this trip. The first was during Les Mis and the second was at the last Evensong when the Anthem made me tear up. That reaction during that church service really showed just how transforming the England trip was.

The picture below is right in front of the Bristol Cathedral. Hidden throughout Bristol at the time, there were about seventy or so Shaun the Sheep statues as a fundraiser for a children’s hospital. Throughout my stay in Bristol, my family found about twenty one Shaun the Sheep statues.

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The best part of the pilgrimage was not any of the places that we went to, but was something that was created. Obviously Les Mis was the best part of the trip, but the best part of the pilgrimage was the fellowship created by all seventy two pilgrims. The fellowship is what made all the sacred and spiritual places we went to even more special.

Stonehenge in many ways really shows the meaning of a pilgrimage because it really is a place where you can strongly feel God’s Holy Spirit. Les Mis linked directly to the pilgrimage because of its spiritual themes and the fact that like the pilgrimage, it was also a spiritual journey. I honestly could go on and on why both Les Mis and the pilgrimage was as special as they were.

The Sacredness of Stonehenge

Stonehenge is such a special place and is so sacred and spiritual. I know this because I visited Stonehenge. It was the mountain-top moment from my trip to England in summer of 2015. The atmosphere is just perfect for a place like Stonehenge. The clouds circle around and draws you in. You never see the same view twice, which adds to the mystery of the place. You can feel like God’s energy is pulling you as well. At the edge of the path you walk around to view Stonehenge, it is where God’s energy is the strongest.

Sacred
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